More than a month has passed since an assortment of people of different ages and different backgrounds first gathered in a park in New York City’s Wall Street financial district because a common concern about America’s disparity in wealth and its impact on their quality of life.
Since then, Occupy Wall Street has become a much-discussed and debated topic — first on social media pages and eventually by mainstream news outlets. The movement also has grown with increasing numbers of participants not only in New York, but all across the nation and even beyond its borders. It also has become campaign fodder for America’s most powerful politicians.
What Occupy Wall Street has yet to accomplish, however, is to have a concrete impact on public policy.
No political leaders – Democrats or Republicans – have been so moved by the demonstrations that they have taken bold actions to address the protesters’ concerns.
Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to go about its business unaffected by the constant presence of the Occupy Wall Street crowds. For the financial executives who earn their livings in lower Manhattan – and for many other Americans – Occupy Wall Street is just a spectacle; it is not a political force.
Likewise, for the media, much of the coverage has focused on arrests, violence and poor health conditions at the demonstration sites instead of the factors that spawned the movement and its growth.
Media outlets also have drawn comparisons between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement, which added a stronger conservative voice to the American political scene in 2009. But unless Occupy Wall Street impacts public policy, the protests cannot be equated with the Tea Party.
In fairness, when the Tea Party was as young as Occupy Wall Street, its influence on public policy was minimal at best. But that changed over the past two years.
The Tea Party fielded candidates for Congress and other elected offices in 2010. In some GOP primaries, its members defeated established candidates who ran with the party’s official backing. Tea Party candidates experienced less success in the general election in November, but the base they built moved the Republican Party further to the right – and those who did win election to Congress have become a force that cannot be ignored whenever important legislation is in need of votes.
A year from now, will Occupy Wall Street be fielding candidates for Congress and U.S. Senate as the Tea Party did in 2010? My guess is that such a scenario is unlikely, but anything can happen in year’s time in politics.
An Occupy Wall Street presence on the ballot could produce several benefits. It would give the movement greater credibility and influence, much like the Tea Party benefited from its involvement in the 2010 campaign. It also would give the Democratic Party a much-needed wakeup call – just as the Tea Party did for the GOP.
In turn, American voters would benefit too. With Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party candidates on the ballot, voters no longer would have their options limited to political parties and candidates who largely have become out-of-touch. Instead, they would have an opportunity to cast votes for people – both on the left and the right — who share their issues and concerns, as well as their anger and frustration.
And isn’t that the way democracy should work?
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